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Black Friday’s dizzying promotions and exceptional offers seem to target a growing desire: saving the Ocean and the planet. European consumers are more and more subjected to marketing messages claiming that products are contributing to the protection of the environment and of the ocean. Yet, the cause-and-effect link between the purchase and the depollution of the ocean, for example, is often very obscure or worse not proven. These claims can consequently divert the attention or delay the uptake of real solutions to our ocean crisis. 

Discover the official briefing of Surfrider

The multiplication of bluewashing practices : an obstacle to Ocean action 

A number of brands have oriented their marketing efforts towards the protection of the Ocean, and significantly towards its protection from plastic pollution. This phenomenon contributed to the emergence of blue claimsthat refer to the practice of suggesting or otherwise creating the impression (in the context of a commercial communication, marketing or advertising) that a product or a service is environmentally friendly for the ocean or is less damaging to the ocean than competing goods or services.   

Similarly, to green claims, some of these blue claims cannot be verified or have been proven false, misleading, or unsubstantiated. We have decided to introduce, next to greenwashing, the concept of ocean washing or blue washing. This marketing strategy only intensifies during periods of major communication campaigns like Black Friday. 

Surfrider Foundation takes bluewashing practices very seriously. They divert away from the right solutions and represent an obstacle to the green transition and action to protect our ocean.   

10 most prominent blue plastic-related claims  

 While strolling around the aisles of a supermarket, or browsing online, consumers might read the most surprising promises:  

“Buy this toothpaste and save a turtle”, “This pair of shoes are cleaning the Ocean”, ….We were so inspired by these misleading advertisements, supposedly meant to save the planet and the Ocean that with the Surfrider team we present you an invented series of blue claims as crazy as unimaginable!

We are depicting here a reality: blue claims can be disproportionate, unsubstantiated, misleading or just plain false. Here are the ten most prominent and widespread blue claims we have observed over our 30 years of existence. 

    1. Marine edible plastic 

Some products are now claiming that they are made of marine edible plastics which, even if it were true, would be tremendously concerning: plastic which contains pollutants and additives cannot be considered safe to eat, neither by a marine animal nor by humans.  

    2. Ocean plastic / beach plastic / ocean bound plastic     

More and more, consumers might also see claims on ocean or beach plastic, or even ocean bound plastic; which in other words would mean that the product is made from plastic collected in or around the Ocean. They give the impression of a false reality in which to buy a product means helping clean up plastic pollution. 

    3. Plastic neutrality / plastic offset / plastic compensation

Products now can be labelled as “plastic neutral” or with “plastic compensation”. Even if companies are committed to a collecting and recycling scheme, they cannot claim to achieve “plastic neutrality”. We do not believe that picking-up waste, often for it to end up incinerated or in a landfill, can actually compensate the exponential production of virgin plastic. 

    4. Marine biodegradable plastic 

Marine biodegradable plastics in products would be designed to degrade specifically in the marine environment over a pre-defined timeframe. The claim is misleading per se and does not reflect the current reality.  

    5. Biodegradable plastic 

The same goes to products made of biodegradable plastics, designed to break down into CO2, water and biomass. This depends on various criteria like the materials used and the environment conditions, including a timeframe and decomposition rate which the claim usually does not refer to. 

    6. Biobased plastic and algae-based plastic 

Biobased plastics are plastics made partially or wholly of biomass feedstock, such as corn or sugarcane and algae-based plastics are bioplastics made from algae sources. Consumers need more transparency on the evidence of their environmental benefits, including sourcing.    

    7. Recyclable plastic  

    8. Recycled plastic 

Products that appear to be recyclable or made of recycled material need to reflect a more complex reality. Indeed, those claims are more than often unclear on whether they refer to either the product itself or its packaging, and whether it is the full composition or only a small portion that is claimed to be so and often lack robust methodology to substantiate them.  

    9. Plastic-free 

Consumers are also surrounded by new “plastic free” products, which are supposed to contain zero plastic in their composition or formulation. Often, control on the products and their composition material isn’t mandatory. 

    10. Reusable plastic 

A reusable plastic is a plastic conceived and designed to be used multiple times for the same purpose. But some products marketed as such are not reusable in reality. Strict controls should be carried out on the reusability of these products.  

What is being done at EU-level about these blue claims?    

Capitalising on consumers’ will to protect the marine environment, these marketing messages create the illusion that the plastic pollution crisis could be solved by buying products. We believe that consumers’ appeal and concern towards the Ocean should not be used to target them with misleading marketing messages. They should be informed in a clear and honest way. We consider consistency between words and actions is key. Consumers’ trust should be ensured as they should be fully aware of the impact of their purchasing choices. 

The European Green Deal the European Commission issued in 2020 set out Europe’s intention to become a world leader in the circular economy and make Europe a climate neutral continent by 2050. As part of this, it identified the need that companies making green claims assess their impacts on the environment using a standard methodology.  

A first initiative was published in Spring this year, and a second series of measures will be proposed on November 30. Both initiatives intend to tackle greenwashing and make sure green claims are substantiated against harmonised and robust methodologies. Stay tuned!   

Surfrider Foundation invites decision makers to step up and make use of the legislative opportunities being examined at the moment as well as those to come to restrict any marketing message that does not admit and/or minimize its dire effects on the marine environment and biodiversity. We call businesses to take these developments as opportunities to raise their ambitions higher in terms of ocean commitments and to increase their credibility. To find out more and read our recommendations, read our official briefing.  

Discover the official briefing of Surfrider